These philosophies are driving the industry into the future.
Q: As I’m learning how to do hybrid and virtual events, I’m getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty. What are some big-picture strategies that should be guiding this process?
A from Ryan Konikoff, Chief Operating Officer at event production company Rock The House located outside Cleveland, OH: You’re wise to take a step back to refocus on what virtual and hybrid events should achieve, and what planners need to know as we move into an exciting, prosperous future.
Hybrid events aren’t just something we’ve got to do to get through the pandemic—they’re what events are going to be like forevermore. Now is a pivotal time for the event community, because the groundwork that we’re laying today, the strategies and best practices, will be the new standards of the industry.
In fact, I predict we’ll start seeing more and more virtual-track positions added to staff rosters as time goes on; we’ll see new jobs and new dollars flow into our industry. Virtual is what’s going to open our community to sustained growth and success.
Whether you’re a virtual newbie or a seasoned pro, here are four of the top takeaways to keep in mind as we move forward.
Virtual Is a Co-equal Format
Some people want to go to the in-person event because they want to network, or to touch different products at the exhibit hall trade show, or because their company’s paying for it and they want to hit up the buffet at Caesars. You’ve also got people who—due to the size of their company, economic factors, or commitments at home—are now going to be able to remotely experience this amazing opportunity that previously might have been out of reach for them.
Look at pro sports in America: It’s been hybrid for decades. The day after a game, you gather around the water cooler at work. One co-worker watched the big home run in their surround-sound home theater on a comfy recliner; that person liked seeing the statistics and the cool graphics packages. Another was there in-person and loved the sun and the energy of the crowd. They both feel they had an elevated experience. Each might argue that their experience was better. But “better” is relative to their personal experience.
For so long, we’ve tried to figure out how people engage. Well, now we’re acknowledging that some people engage better from their desks at home. Going forward, we’re going to meet constituents’ needs wherever they are.
It’s All About That Engagement
A virtual event or a hybrid event is not Netflix. It’s not even a Zoom meeting. We have to ensure that we are driving engagement as we interact digitally, using the same principles that we would for in-person events and translating them into virtual. There is some great software out there like Slido and Kahoot that I love for hybrid events because they allow in-person guests and remote guests to be on the same playing field when participating in things like Q&As, word clouds, polls, and chats.
So much interaction is happening on that 13-inch screen, so rather than relying on an open bar, food, a brief break, or a cool giveaway, remote guests’ experience needs to focus on new perks.
The Lines Are Blurring—and They Should Be
Even guests who attend future events in person may choose to participate in a segment remotely— perhaps they have to make a call halfway through, or maybe they just want to be in a different environment. This creates tons of new and unique opportunities that can be really impactful, such as the opportunity to build remote or virtual-viewing lounges with lucrative sponsorships. Approaches like these also let people viewing remotely feel like co-equal attendees.
My philosophy on events is more circular, like a clock, than linear. How are we dripping information to a client base through smaller or online events throughout the year? How are we gamifying steps along the way? The conference is just one arm on the clock; it never moves. The other arm is the virtual components, which is so cool for our industry. It’s less of, “Hey, I’ll see you next year at the conference,” and more, “This is an active part of my continuing education that I get to experience all year round.”
Never Stop Learning
It’s not just meeting attendees who can benefit from continuing, year-round education—meeting professionals can (and should) benefit, too. For instance, virtual venues and virtual platforms are updating every day with new features. Sample what’s out there, and then mark a time six months out on the calendar to do it again, because chances are things will have changed. Continue to reevaluate and upgrade your tech tools, your skillset, and all of these big-picture factors as we move into the future.
Virtual and hybrid may be new concepts for many event professionals, but I always suggest looking at people who pioneered previous innovations, and what made them successful. Remember watching music videos … and when VH1 came along with Pop-Up Video and added to the format? We have the chance to keep adding to our constituencies’ experiences, and that’s great for our industry and everyone who participates with it.
There is a magic that comes from people being together, and that won’t ever change. But virtual will add value to this mix going forward, and it’s here to stay.
This Q&A column features Ryan Konikoff, Chief Operating Officer at event production company Rock The House, and is brought to you by Destination Cleveland. Keep an eye out for more meeting planning tips as you continue to navigate the new environment. And to learn more about Cleveland, visit www.thisiscleveland.com/meetings.